Downtown Owl Interview: Hamish Linklater & Lily Rabe Talk Directorial Debut
(Photo Credit: Sony Pictures)

Interview: Lily Rabe & Hamish Linklater Talk Directorial Debut Downtown Owl

ComingSoon Editor-in-Chief Tyler Treese spoke to Downtown Owl directors Lily Rabe and Hamish Linklater about their directorial debut, which is based on the novel by Chuck Klosterman. Rabe stars alongside a great cast that includes Vanessa Hudgens, Ed Harris, Henry Golding, and more. It is now available to buy or rent digitally.

“Avoiding life in Milwaukee, Julia Rabia (Rabe), moves to the Reagan-era town of Owl, North Dakota for a temporary high school teaching job,” says the synopsis. “But when Owl turns out to be a wonderland of second-string poets, smoldering Marlboro Men, and a social hierarchy that echoes high school, Julia isn’t sure if she’s come to town to get away from home or to find it.”

Tyler Treese: Lily, one thing I really admired about Downtown Owl is that, typically, when I see a lot of first-time directors, they play it safe. You two were not afraid of going weird and breaking the fourth wall, going straight into the camera. Can you speak to just having that adventurous spirit in this film?

Lily Rabe: I really appreciate the question. I think Hamish and I, in our lives and in our careers thus far, we don’t tend to play it safe. I think when I’ve witnessed him play it safe, or he has witnessed me play it safe, I’m sort of speaking for him, but that’s usually a more disappointing experience. So, in this arena and having this opportunity, it was just our sort of sensibility is… Listen, I love things that are weird and specific. I think if you’re trying to make something for everyone, you’re gonna end up nowhere. It’s wonderful if everyone likes it, but you have to sort of lean into your point of view and your lens, and I think our lenses are weird.

I also wanna say that the book is weird and wonderful, but really it’s not weird to us. It never felt weird, it felt like someone speaking to us so clearly, in a way we completely understood and made sense to us, and so every choice along the way, how we shot it, felt like the only way to tell the story.

Hamish Linklater: Also, we really did take the lead from the book and the way that the book, the way that Chuck sort of reaches out of the pages of his novel and sort of says, “Hello,” grabs you. I’m talking to you through all these different characters. So we really thought, oh, well, that’s our job to honor that and see how we do that with a movie.

Hamish, the author of Downtown Owl, Chuck Klosterman, is very well known for his criticism, and then he also has done great fiction writing. What was it about the novelthat just really took hold of you and made you want to do this adaptation?

Linklater: First of all, the characters, the language he puts in those characters mouths. Then I went to his hometown, where the novel is set. I mean, Owl is fictional, but you can Google “Where did Chuck Klosterman go to high school?” and it’ll tell you, Google will. So then I went to the town, and the towns around, and totally fell in love with the landscape and the people who populate it. So it was like, gosh, we gotta do right by this and figure out how to make it into an entertaining movie.

Rabe: There was such specificity in the book and for us to build the world of the film and take the swings that we did, it all felt so specific. I think there’s such incredible humor in the book, and there’s also this underlying heart that is beating through the novel. So we just wanted to be very deliberate and careful how we brought those qualities, sort of side by side into film.

Lily, Ed Harris is one of my favorite actors, and it’s great to get another awesome performance of him here. He has so many great emotional moments. How was it just working with him and having so many great scenes with him as well as directing?

Rabe: It was such a gift for me, in every way, to be opposite Ed. Because he’s had this experience of directing himself, I had such an excellent resource right there. To sort of say, what did you love the most about it? What was the hardest about it? But really, he just is my kind of actor to watch, but there’s no one more thrilling to act opposite because he is absolutely fearless. He’s so curious. He’s so kind of relentless in his pursuit of the truth of a moment. He never backs off anything. So it’s just so alive, and it’s amazing to direct. It’s amazing to play opposite.

Hamish, one of my favorite parts of Downtown Owl is the montage where Lily’s talking at the bar and it’s the “what she said” versus “what she meant” section, where it goes back and forth. How was it coming up with that idea and doing the implementation because I thought that was really fun.

Linklater: I think we went through a bunch of different iterations. It’s in the book, split up like that. Like what she said, what she meant, what she hoped to convey, et cetera. So we try, we tried out a, a, a bunch of different ways, but, you know, shooting on the day, they would do, I think this is right, you would do the two versions, you know, in a row. So that, ’cause we thought, well, maybe that’ll work to watch the actor reset and actually say what they wish they had said. Um, and then we ended up doing the cutting it the way we did. But it was,

Rabe: But what’s so, what’s so what I loved so much about shooting the scene that way. Um, I just find that, I find that so identifiable that, you know, what your, what your subconscious is doing when you’re having that conversation. Uh, and you know, everything that’s right below the surface is something that it just makes me feel so, uh, so seen. And, um, I, I love the way it’s written in the book. I think the way Hamish adapted it is so brilliant. Uh, it’s so funny, it’s so honest, but it’s really so identifiable. Um, and that was, that was one of my favorite days of shooting in terms of just the, the acting of it. With, with Henry,

Linklater: We have moments like that scene all the time doing press where we’re like, but what I meant was…

Lily, I was curious, especially since you’re obviously a great couple, how do you settle creative differences when you’re working together on a project like Downtown Owl?

Rabe: Listen, I love working with people who challenge you. You wanna make sure that you’re making the same movie, which I think Hamish and I have a sort of wonderful creative thing, which is that we share a brain in a lot of ways it turns out. But we also have things that… We met working, we got to know each other working, and as actors. When we were just acting together, it was one of my favorite things to ask him for notes. This is before we were together, had a family together, but I’ve never been interested in [and] I don’t like working with yes people. I like working with people who challenge you and push you. So hashing those things out or having moments of disagreement were equally thrilling. But for the most part, we were so in sync and we really had the ship pointed in the same direction.

Downtown Owl Interview: Hamish Linklater & Lily Rabe Talk Directorial Debut
(Photo Credit: Sony Pictures)

Hamish, Vanessa Hudgens is just going completely all out in Downtown Owl She has such great comedic timing, so it’s so nice to see her have such a fun role here. How was it really letting her go and her taking it to a hundred in this role?

Linklater: It was f—ing incredible. We didn’t know at all. We just knew that she had like all this spirit and force and talent, and it’s like, here’s the keys to this role in our movie. She just like floored it. She came in with the dialect, down pat and everything, like choices. It was totally awesome.

Rabe: She has an amazing sparkle, and she, too, is completely fearless. She’s always eager to try anything. She will try anything. Her skill set is unbelievable.

Linklater: But yeah, we were like, oh, there’s gonna be a dance montage. You and Lily will do this dance montage. I don’t know if that’s actually in the script that there’s a dance. They’re just drinking in the script.

Rabe: Then we had this idea for the dance, and she choreographed the dance with a choreographer friend of hers. I was wall to wall. She taught me the dance. We learned it a little bit on Zoom when I was there before she got there, as she was sort of hashing it out. But we didn’t actually get to try doing the dance together until the lunch break before we shot it. I think she’s like the only person in the world who could do all of that. Dancing with Vanessa Hudgens, lemme tell you, there’s nothing more fun.

Movie News

Marvel and DC